Faculty Advisor or Committee Member

Richard D. Sisson, Jr., Advisor




A serious concern in the practice of heat treatment is the effect of surface contamination and the effectiveness of subsequent cleaning on the performance and appearance of the finished products. This study examined the effects of contamination on the appearance, hardness, carbon concentration, and retained austenite percentages in vacuum carburized AISI 9310 steel. The effectiveness of commonly-used cleaning methods was also determined. Seven categories of typical contamination were selected for testing: rust preventative oil, hot and cold cutting fluid, and four levels of oxidation. Samples of AISI 9310 steel were contaminated and then half from each category were cleaned and the other half remained contaminated. All samples were vacuum carburized to a case depth of 0.35wt% carbon at 0.9mm. The properties were experimentally determined post-heat treatment. It was determined that there was no significant difference in the contaminated, cleaned, and non-contaminated samples for any of the hardness, carbon concentration, and percentage of retained austenite measurements. However, most contaminated samples had undesirable appearances after heat treatment. Therefore, when a high quality surface appearance is not necessary or if further surface processing is done on these parts, this study determined that cleaning of AISI 9310 steel is not necessary before vacuum carburization. This implies a potential cost and time savings for heat treatment companies. However, when the customer specifies a clean, lustrous surface, effective cleaning is required before vacuum carburizing.


Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Degree Name



Materials Science & Engineering

Project Type


Date Accepted





cutting fluids, oxidation, vacuum carburization, cleaning, contamination, AISI 9310, rust preventative oil